Jane Jacobs was a strong proponent of visceral, participatory, and qualitative approaches to urban studies, where urban knowledge is best acquired through personal experience in urban landscapes. Her lifelong research was focused on theorizing how vibrant cities naturally create economic development, and her work revolves around how dense, diverse urban environments can spur the innovation and cultural production crucial for economic growth (Jacobs 1961, 1969, 1984). A number of modern economic researchers, using more quantitative methods, have confirmed that there is a distinct link between complex mixed-use urbanism and healthy economic development (Florida 2003, 2008; Glaeser 2011). Other authors emerging from a social geographic perspective also stress that diverse urbanism can also benefit the psychological development of urban residents (Sennett 1990; Hajer and Reijndorp 2001). These arguments propose that exposure to diversity in urban environments can generate tolerance for different groups of people, and can encourage a more active “public sphere” where civic responsibility is encouraged. Visibility across urban borders to different urban zones – such as park fences, front porches, or neighborhood street boundaries – represents the most visceral way in which exposure to difference is generated in diverse urban places.
I have found a number of visual formats where the conditions of dense, diverse urbanism that may best generate creativity and tolerance can be visualized in a single frame. (1) “Storefront contrasts” describe photos of urban storefronts in which two drastically different businesses are neighbors, providing an interesting juxtaposition and indicating a level of socio-economic and age diversity. (2) “Conversions” describe photos of older buildings initially built for a specific purpose (gas stations, banks, etc.) that have been converted into other uses. (3) “Large-scale views” and (4) “Small-scale views” describe instances where visibility across diverse urban borders can be framed in one picture, highlighting the contrasts between buildings and urban uses at the scales of multiple blocks or inches. Each category is intended to help visualize the types of rent-based, age-based, and product-based diversity that Jacobs associates with healthy urban districts. Both also help observers to clearly visualize the temporal processes of urban change that are inevitable in complex urban systems and crucial for sustainable urban development.